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$3 million gift elevates Civil War/presidential research center at MSU

An unparalleled private Lincoln and Civil War collection amassed over the past 50 years by former Rhode Island Chief Justice—and nationally known Abraham Lincoln authority—Frank J. Williams will be donated to Mississippi State University.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum and Judge Williams this week announced the extraordinary gift that Keenum said will transform MSU into one of the nation’s leading destinations for scholars and students of the American Civil War.

Williams, the longtime president of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, was previously instrumental in relocating that group and its own archives—now the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library—to MSU nine years ago. By donating his extraordinary Lincoln collection, Williams has also helped elevate MSU into a presidential research center of national prominence.

Considered the nation’s largest privately owned holding of Lincoln research and display material, as well as the country’s most comprehensive privately owned Lincoln and Civil War library, the Frank J. and Virginia Williams Collection boasts rare historical memorabilia; priceless artifacts; original, signed documents; ephemera; books published over a span of 150 years; and both original one-of-a-kind, and early mass-produced, artwork relating to Lincoln and the Civil War era.

The collection, which Judge and Mrs. Williams will officially gift to the Mississippi State University Libraries, has been valued at nearly $3 million.

Committing themselves to providing perpetual support to maintain, study and publicly display highlights from the collection, the Williamses have also offered a promised gift of $500,000 for the creation of the Frank J. and Virginia Williams Research Fund—an endowment to Mississippi State to curate the material in the years to come.

Additionally, the Williamses have pledged to fund a new, annual Frank and Virginia Williams Lecture in Lincoln and Civil War Studies at Mississippi State. And in an extraordinary gesture, they will continue to make acquisitions to add to the collection at MSU.

The Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana will be housed in the new $10 million addition to Mitchell Memorial Library, scheduled to open later this year. More than 100 items from the collection will be showcased in a nearly 1,200-square-foot gallery, organized around themes such as family, politics, the law, the presidency, the Civil War, slavery, assassination, and Lincoln in popular culture. The new space will be designated as the gallery for “The Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana.” The library addition will also house the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, the Ulysses S. Grant Association, and the Congressional and Political Research Center.

“The Mississippi State University Library is indebted to Frank and Virginia Williams for entrusting this unique and precious collection of Lincolniana to our care,” said MSU Dean of Libraries Frances Coleman. “Our goal is to display its great treasures on a rotating basis while making the entire archive available to researchers throughout the world by cataloging each piece, digitizing the unique materials, and developing a website for the collection.”

Information and photo provided by Mississippi State University.

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